There are artists whose practices evolve radically over time; Picasso’s work spanned numerous styles and genres, and the prolific artist William Kentridge has produced everything from opera and performance works to drawing, painting, and video animations. And then there are artists who train their eye on a singular theme or motif throughout a lifetime, such as Chuck Close, who has painted portrait after portrait in his trademark pixelated style, On Kawara with his serial “Date” paintings, or the late, celebrated Croatian artist Julije Knifer (1924–2004), who focused his practice on one abstract form, which he called “the meander,” a snaking geometric line or maze-like configuration in black-and-white.
Scratch beneath the surface (metaphorically speaking) of Knifer’s paintings and drawings—a selection of which are currently on view in the artist’s first-ever U.S. solo show at Mitchell-Innes & Nash—and a more complex picture of his practice emerges. A founding member of the 1960s avant-garde “Gorgona” group in Zagreb, a then-hotbed of experimentalism and non-traditional art spaces, Knifer was at the center of a movement that is considered an important forerunner to Western conceptual art. His intent: to create the “anti-painting,” reducing form down to its simplest iteration and holding himself to a principle of repetition. “I realized that I didn’t want to create a single painting, a work that would be self-contained and complete in and of itself,” he once said. “I understood that my drawings and my own images were only one in a series of connected similar acts.”
Knifer may have stuck to one motif, but his winding line comes in many forms, media, and compositions, including print, oil, acrylic paint, collage, and even, beginning in 1975, as giant outdoor murals, such as the 20-by-30 meter canvas he draped in a quarry in Tübingen, Germany. Much like Kawara’s project of painting serial dates, Knifer’s paintings and drawings address notions of rhythm and time, like a set of moving, shifting metronomic marks that accompanied the artist through his lifetime.
“Julije Knifer” is on view at Mitchell-Innes & Nash from February 6th – March 15th, 2014.